Tibetan Art Exhibition

The art of Tibet is very much linked with Buddhism and meditation. While it can be enjoyed simply on an outer level of aesthetic beauty, there are also many levels of explanation of the inner meaning. The following explanations give a taste of this meaning; for more in-depth information please come to the curator’s tours and the lectures.

Arrangement of the exhibition

The exhibit content reflects the so-called Refuge Tree or Field of Merit (Skt. puṇyakṣetra), which encompasses all enlightened images embodying path and goal of Tibetan Buddhism. Six different groups are to be distinguished here:

1. The Buddha (Skt. buddha). The historical Buddha Śākyamuni, who was born in today’s Nepal around 560 BC, belongs to this group in particular, as do also other forms such as the Medicine Buddha (Bhaiṣajyaguru).

2. The Teachings (Skt. dharma). The teachings of the Buddha are represented by texts and by a female Buddha form (Prajñāpāramitā).

3. The Community of Practitioners (Skt. saṅgha). Among the direct students of the Buddha were Loving Eyes (Avalokiteśvara), Wisdom Buddha (Mañjuśrῑ) and Diamond in Hand (Vajrapānῑ).

4. The Teachers (Skt. guru). Apart from the buddhas, the teachings, and the community of practitioners, the refuge tree in Diamond Way Buddhism also contains the teachers, who are represented by great masters of Buddhist India from the 8th up to the 12th century, by Guru Rinpoche (Padmasaṃbhava) as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, and by the teachers of the four Tibetan Buddhist schools. Since the teachers are responsible for the transmission of the meditation experience, they are seated in the centre of the tree.

5. The Yidams (Skt. iṣṭa-deva). They are personal meditation aspects symbolising certain qualities of the enlightened mind, for example Highest Bliss (Cakrasaṃvara) or Wheel of Time (Kālacakra).

6. The Protectors (Skt. dharmapāla). The protectors remove outer and inner obstacles on the way to enlightenment. Their powerful and protective appearance expresses active compassion for the benefit of all beings.

The meaning of Tibetan sculptures and thangkas

“Tibetan art is first and foremost Buddhist art. It can best be comprehended and appreciated when both its religious meaning and its high artistic quality are well understood. … The aesthetics of Tibetan Buddhist art is based upon revealing the Buddhist understanding of the way things truly are. Because of this, Tibetan art, expressed primarily in terms of deities and their settings, possesses an intensity, a power, and a reality that appear more penetrating, more beautiful, and greater than ordinary. Deities whose forms have been revealed to those whose minds have a purified, clear vision are portrayed to assist others in attaining this same vision and thereby become acquainted with the possibility of complete enlightenment.”

(Marilyn M. Rhie “Tibetan Buddhist Art: Aesthetics, Chronology, and Styles” in: Rhie, M., Thurman, R. (1991, 2000). Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet. New York: Harry N. Abrahams, Inc., pp.39-66.)

Statues and scroll paintings (Tib. thang ka) carry a deeply symbolic meaning in Tibetan Buddhism, exceeding the mere artistic aspect. The pieces from Tibet, Nepal and India take the spectator into a traditional yet up to date world. They establish a relation to the fascinating art of Diamond Way Buddhism as well as an insight into its deeply symbolical meaning.

Buddhist statues are not only art pieces of a bygone time. They still serve as meditational aids for practising Buddhists. The forms express timeless values, meaning ideal mental attributes like love and compassion, courage and energy, or wisdom and timeless joy. By focusing on the buddha forms during meditation, the practitioner receives feedback in their mind, through which these enlightened qualities are accomplished more and more.

In the traditional treatises, defined iconographical requirements of form and perfect proportions are preconditions for use in meditation. The expression, position of body, and displayed attributes express different facets of enlightened qualities, which are inherent in everyone’s mind. Hence the composition and form of these art pieces are not predominantly an expression of the creativity of the manufacturer but follow pre-assigned traditional meditation instructions, which support the practitioner in realizing the Buddhist aspects. As well as the meditation instructions, the art of making statues and scroll paintings has been handed down from master to disciple for centuries.

Manufacturing techniques, filling and consecration

The roots of the Tibetan manufacturing of statues goes back to Indian models, which are based on descriptions of Buddha’s outer appearance in Buddhist meditation instructions (Skt. sādhana). The two best-known sādhana collections were compiled by the Indian Abhayākaragupta in the 11th century.

Tibetan sculptors cast their statues by alloying various metals. It was common to cast wax and beat metal, i.e. to hammer and shape the forms. Most of the smaller statues were cast by means of melting wax, or according to the method of the “lost form”. Here a wax model is formed over a heart-clay and is then covered with a cast cope of clay. Then, molten bronze or copper is cast between the heart and the moulded hollow form, which drives out the melting wax, which flows away through drainage openings. Eventually, the outer cope of clay is knocked off, and the raw form is refined until it has its final shape. The general artistic impression is mainly dependent on the final precision work and the polishing, engraving, painting and inlaying with precious materials or stones. Many statues are gilded. Before being used for meditation, the statues are filled with relics, mantra-rolls and other special ingredients. During the final consecration ceremony (Tib. rab gnas) the buddhas are invited to take residence inside the statue, and from this moment on the statue is seen as a representation of the buddhas themselves.

Origin of the exhibits

This unique exhibition consists of more than 70 pieces of Tibetan art and is compiled from various collections, Buddhist centres and private donors.
The objects on display illustrate the primary images found in Buddhist art, and offer viewers a varied visual experience, from an early 2nd-3rd century Gandhāran sculpture, to a silk appliqué thangka depicting White Liberatrice (Sita Tārā). Other noteworthy works from the exhibition are a 300 year old thangka showing a special eight-armed form of Loving Eyes (Aṣṭa-bhujaḥ Avalokiteśvara), several five-meter thangkas containing the Thirty-five Buddhas of Purification of Negativity, a 200 year old fire-gilded Medicine Buddha (Bhaiṣajyaguru) with a sapphire inlay between the eyes, and a number of statues from the private Blomeyer collection, among them a striking Highest Bliss (Cakrasaṃvara) lotus maṇḍala.

List of donors

Buddhist Centre Budapest
Buddhist Centre Buxtehude
Buddhist Center London
Diamond Way Buddhism Foundation
Helga Behrens and Christian Ostermann
Gerald Blomeyer
Tanja Böhnke and Stefan Funken
Ulrich Fickel
Szilárd Fodor
Michael Fuchs
Stefan Funken
Detlev Göbel
Dorrit and Pedro Gomez
Dirk Hannemann
Daniel Johnston
Monika Kruse
Kurt Nübling
Lama Ole Nydahl
Vilas Pomp
Anna Potyka
Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche
Eva und Manfred Seegers
Jakob Sintschnig
Karin Stolley
Tibetan Lama Art
Richard Zanella

With many thanks for generous support from White Light LTD

Refuge Tree

Refuge Tree or Field of Merit (Skt. puṇyakṣetra, Tib. tshogs zhing) of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, colours and gold on cloth, 400x300 cm

Gandhara Budha

Gandhāra Buddha, about 2nd-3rd Century CE, stone, 41.3x27x9.5 cm

Medicine Buddha

Medicine Buddha (Skt. Bhaiṣajyaguru), 19th century, bronze, fire-gilded with sapphire inlay

Prajnaparamita

Perfection of Wisdom (Skt. Prajñāpāramitā, Tib. yum chen mo), bronze, 24x21x14.5 cm

Loving Eyes

Loving Eyes (Skt. Avalokiteśvara, Tib. spyan ras gzigs), bronze, 81x57x48 cm, filled and consecrated according to Tibetan tradition

16th Karmapa statue

16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, bronze, 24x17x12.5 cm, filled and consecrated according to Tibetan tradition

Cakrasaṃvara

Cakrasaṃvara (Highest Bliss) lotus maṇḍala, bronze, 32x18x13 cm

Dorje Phurba

White Liberatrice (Skt. Sita Tārā, Tib. sgrol dkar) silk appliqué thangka, 95x73 cm